Outside the box and into the Potato Head – Blog entry #6

It’s summer time and time to think outside the box. A staple of high school wrestling is the summer wrestling camp. This multi-million dollar industry has served many a wrestler and forged the dreams of winter champions. Before we head out to camp this morning I wanted to put some thoughts out on opening our minds to change.Coaches are notorious for being set in their ways. Let’s face it not many coaches change the way they do things after the first few years of their careers. Sure, they add a little technique here or there and probably some drills to go with but do they truly make substantial changes? We have our core beliefs and we stick to them and there is nothing wrong with that. Having a solid foundation and system is not only “best practices” it allows us to change without everything going to shit. Being creative and thinking outside the comfortable parameters is tough to do especially when you’ve been successful but it is also something we need to consider to continuously move forward. The sport changes, kids change, each team is different and if you don’t adjust as a coach your program will stall and become stagnant.

I felt this stagnation about ten years ago when I took my kids to the Oregon State team camp for the fourth year in a row. We would wrestle our duals, the kids would sit with their clichés in the lunch room, hang out with a select few in the dorm rooms, the coaches would go off and do their thing and do it again for the next three days. I was bored, my kids were bored and ultimately we were not getting much better. This is not in any way a knock of OSU or their coaches who I consider friends. This had to do with us, the Berzerkers and what we wanted to accomplish.

I had to ask myself what do I want out of summer camps for our kids and how could we achieve that in a costly manner. Here’s the list of what I wanted: coaches to spend quality time with the athletes, specific control of the technique, a hard drill session each day, a hard live session each day, team building activities between sessions, great food, fun, alumni to come and give back, in a unique setting that was different from Berzerkerville with like minded coaches to share and have brotherhood all at a reasonable price. Whew! Not much to ask really.

The technique I could handle and if not me one of my coaches. I didn’t need to bring in a world class wrestler to show their favorite move and shell-out thousands of dollars for something I had already worked on with my kids or watched on YouTube. One of my former wrestler’s dad owned a really cool campground in George, WA (much different climate than Lake Stevens). They opened only for large concerts at the Gorge, a world renowned outdoor amphitheater. Scott, the owner, was very gracious and opened his arms to our vision. Not only is it a great campground the food they cater is world class. It was the first camp I had been to where the kids and coaches couldn’t stop talking about how good the food was. This doesn’t seem like a big deal but our kids are very food conscious all season long and it’s nice to be able to break bread with your buddies without the stress of worrying about making weight the next day.
I enlisted my coaches to come up with team building activities between wrestling sessions. We broke the kids up into groups of seven or eight strategically placing potential leaders on each team (no more cliques and no more sitting in dorm rooms). The kids were creating skit’s, building business plans, doing dance contests and a lot of stuff that not only was fun but helped them get closer to each other and develop leaders. It always amazes me who emerges from these activities that might have never been a leader in the room. Stars were born outside the realm of wins and losses.
I invited our alumni that were still wrestling in college and some that had just finished. This created a great connection between the past and also provided great practice partners for our best guys. In the evenings before bed we sometimes would have talks about life skills and some of our most memorable times were when former wrestlers shared their stories with the campers.
After bedtime the coaches would gather and talk of the day’s events and plan for tomorrow. These conversations became collective discussions where we all took ownership of the technique, schedule, activities and any other issues. This shared involvement was the icing on the cake and created not only an atmosphere of community but also became a vehicle for growth. Outside of technique, how many coaches walk away from a camp knowing they just improved their craft?

The biggest issue was where would we wrestle? We had the mats and could haul them anywhere but being in the middle of farm land there was not a gym nearby. We looked possibly going to the local high school but that would up our costs and not be unique. Scott came up with the idea talking to his farm buddies of using a potato storage shed. These large corrugated steel Quonset hut looking structures are actually built to stay cool in very hot climates. This area of Washington can have temperatures above 100 degrees so having a place that can stay cool is essential. They have a lot of space and we could fit up to four mats in one. Perfect!

We are now in our eighth year of putting on The Potato Head Camp and have stuck with our original ideals. There have been changes and issues to address but that in itself is part of the challenge to keep it unique and serve our needs. There will come a time where we will try something different, possibly go back to Oregon State or Oklahoma State camps as we have in the past. One thing I know for sure if we do go back I’m bringing my team building activities with me and my team will never again hang out in a dorm room between sessions. It’s more work for the coaches but the goal is not to limit the coaches work load, the goal is to get better. 

This year we have expanded our efforts to expose our wrestlers while still having fun. Beyond our weekly practices and weight training we felt we needed more. This group isn’t a strong freestyle group that is looking to go to Fargo. In the past I have had upto eight kids wrestling on our state team and it was great. For whatever reason it’s been a hard sell with this particular group. We decided this spring we needed more to get this team to where they need to be and came up with the idea of taking a week and training with another to-knotch program. A few years back we attended a tournament in Montana with perennial California program Poway. Through our booster club we’ve rented a house a couple blocks from the beach in sunny San Diego and near enough to Poway. In the mornings we will strength and condition on the beach and in the evening practice with Poway. The daytime will be spent hanging out and having fun. On the Saturday before we leave we will wrestle in their tournament and head home Sunday. Not a bad way to spend a wrestling week in July. It will be fun but these decisions are always based on what it will do for us in terms of wrestling first. This is a prime example of thinking out of the box to make our team better. 

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